“A formulator of atmospheric prose with great linguistic certainty”
Judith Hermann is a literary sensation in Germany who quickly became the best-selling voice of the new Berlin following the release of her debut, Sommerhaus, spater.
After that book’s massive success, one critic wrote: “At long last, there is a very stimulating, stylish, entertaining new generation of German authors just emerging who are keen to tell good stories and have very good stories to tell, stories that will travel, stories that are not about the war, stories that are not paralysed by introspection. And the hottest young star of them all is Judith Hermann.”
The writer went on to say that “Hermann herself is an enigmatic, charismatic, sad-eyed creature whose languid manner and idiosyncratic remarks have only contributed to her aura. She’s quite something – dare I say the German Zadie Smith?”
The praise was echoed by Bettina Albert, a member of the jury of the Bremen Literature Prize, who said that Hermann “formulates in atmospheric prose and with great linguistic certainty the attitude to life of people who are caught up in love and fear, miss real life and observe the failure of their own life plans more melancholy than experience it mournfully.”
Hermann, who will appear at the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival, holds a master’s degree in German and Philosophy and attended the Berlin Journalism College, a highly prestigious academy for journalists. During this training she did an internship in New York and it was while she was in the United States that she realised short stories were going to be a key part of her life moving forward and journalism was not.
Sommerhaus, später (任国强/戴英杰译|人民文学出版社2007；上海文艺出版社，2014）was celebrated by critics who called it the “sound of a new generation” and Hermann became a leader of what literary critics called the Fräuleinwunder (miracle young women).
In the book, the narrator slips into different roles and genders in nine stories: at times she is a granddaughter, other times a lover, sometimes an artist, sometimes a listener. And sometimes just a narrator.
“As quickly as a story builds up intimacy with the reader, it ends again and a new one begins. Characters step into the life of the protagonist and leave again, tearing small wounds that hurt for a long time,” one critic wrote.
In the words of one reviewer: “Hermann’s art is immediate: direct speech, real comparisons, detailed perception. And yet the narratives remain pleasantly incomplete. As if someone had held a camera on a few people in Berlin or New York or somewhere and then faded it out again.”
Hermann’s first novel Aller Liebe Anfang (顾牧译|人民文学出版社2016）depicts a stalking scenario, in which the protagonist Stella is terrorised by a neighbor, Mister Pfister, when she is alone in her home during the day while her husband and daughter are at work and school.
Mister Pfister appears one day on Stella’s doorstep, wishing to speak with her and, after being denied, becomes fixated on her, leaving increasingly encroaching and aggressive messages in her mailbox and threatening to destroy her quiet family life.
Hermann’s novel is chilling, in part because of the restrained language she deploys and in part because the stalking scenario points to contemporary social fears about security and vulnerability.
In clear, relentless language, Judith Hermann tells of the conundrum of the beginning and the end of love and of the collapse of a life that was believed to be safe.
Aller Liebe Anfang is a delicately wrought, deeply sinister story about how easily the comfortable lives we build for ourselves can be shattered.